We ranked all the movies in this brilliant horror franchise so far from worst to best, including Evil Dead Rise.
Renowned for their goriness, absurdity and creativity, the Evil Dead movies sit among the most highly acclaimed horror films of all time, and for good reason. The series began in 1981 with The Evil Dead, directed by first-time filmmaker Sam Raimi, who has gone on to become one of the most well-known directors working today. There’s nothing else quite like this classic horror franchise, and if you’re looking for a comedy horror, you will struggle to do any better than these. The following article is my attempt to rank all Evil Dead movies from worst to best, including Evil Dead Rise (2023), a near-impossible task given just how good these movies are, but one I’ve attempted nevertheless.
5. Evil Dead
Director: Fede Álvarez
Full Review: Evil Dead (2013) Review: A Groovy Remake
Fully honestly, I feel a tad harsh putting Evil Dead (2013) at the very bottom of the list. What it does well, it smashes out of the park, but it’s let down whenever it tries to modernise the Evil Dead ethos and make the series fit in more with other mainstream horrors. The film serves as a reboot for the franchise. Released twenty years after the conclusion of the original trilogy, it takes us back to the series’ roots of a group of young adults hanging out in a creepy cabin in the woods. Compared to the other Evil Dead films, the first 30 minutes of this are a completely different beast, actually making an attempt to humanise these characters and give them actual character arcs for us to get invested in.
Now, on paper, this sounds like a good thing. Of course a deeper and more detailed narrative is a good thing, typically the more well-constructed the narrative is, the better the actual film ends up being. It’s common sense! The problem is that this isn’t just any ordinary film franchise, it’s Evil Dead. Since the very first instalment, Evil Dead has trained us to throw away any typical conceptions of narrative and instead just get on board with whatever chaos is unfolding in front of us. It works because the chaos is normally so well-done, so well-paced and so entertaining. The narrative never matters.
They even seem to acknowledge that here, as even though the first act is completely devoted to setting up these characters and their struggles, by the time the film dives deep into the typical Evil Dead chaos, the story is a distant memory. The first half hour just ends up feeling like time wasted, because even the film struggles to care about it once the chaos begins. As for the horror itself, it’s just as great as you’d expect from the franchise, with slightly more emphasis put on crafting actual scares rather than trying to merge horror with comedy like the previous films did. What you end up with is a very well-made horror film, but one that takes far too long to get going and wastes too much time to be worthy of being called a modern classic.
4. Army of Darkness
Director: Sam Raimi
If, once I’d finished The Evil Dead (1982), you were to ask me how I expected the original trilogy to conclude, a dark fantasy comedy where a man with a chainsaw hand has to fight a mediaeval skeleton army would never have come to mind. It’s a real testament to just how well-done these films are that they can successfully pivot into a direction this absurd whilst still retaining their unique charm and sense of identity. With Army of Darkness (1992), Sam Raimi drops almost all pretence of these films being horrors and instead decides to fully commit to making an absolutely ridiculous, goofy comedy, and almost completely nails it.
Set directly after the ending of the second film, which saw the trilogy’s groovy protagonist Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) transported to the Middle Ages, the film sees Ash having to search for the iconic Necronomicon which will hopefully transport him back to the present. Along the way, he encounters all kinds of absurd obstacles, including a magic mirror, an evil version of himself and, of course, an army of claymation skeletons. The film revels in its goofier tone, with each and every scenario being more entertaining than the last. Campbell thrives, elevating Ash to almost a caricature of the classic 80s action hero, constantly firing off one-liners and iconic catchphrases.
The larger scale and more ambitious story does, unfortunately, come with its downsides though, as the film lacks the refined, tightly paced feel of the first two entries. It also lacks as many truly memorable and brilliant moments as the first two. Whilst I adore scenes like Ash fighting tiny versions of himself, there are very few scenes that at all compare with, say, Ash sawing his own hand off with a chainsaw. With that being said though, it’s still a fantastic film, but this is an incredibly competitive list and the first two films are just on a completely different level.
3. Evil Dead Rise
Director: Lee Cronin
The newest instalment in the franchise and one that reaffirms just how consistent this series is. With Evil Dead Rise (2023), Lee Cronin manages to do something fresh with the standard Evil Dead formula, almost entirely thanks to the decision to shift settings, moving the action away from a cabin in the woods and into a worn-down apartment complex. The film follows guitar technician Beth (Lily Sullivan), who, after discovering she’s pregnant, decides to visit her older sister Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) and her three nieces and nephews. Unfortunately for Beth and her family, her nephew Danny (Morgan Davies) manages to accidentally unleash a chaotic demon, which possesses Ellie and starts to wreak havoc on the building.
The film definitely suffers from a few of the same faults as its 2013 predecessor, namely the slower, longer build-up and a somewhat unnecessary focus on providing us with backstories and justifications for everything that’s happening, but it does handle this overall a lot better, weaving its more complex narrative into the horror a lot more seamlessly. As for the actual horror itself, it’s as gory as you would expect, and it revels in Evil Dead’s unpredictability, constantly subverting expectations and throwing in scares where you wouldn’t expect. There are some incredibly creative sequences scattered throughout the film, although it could have used a few more in this vein, as for every brilliantly shot “peephole” set piece, there are three scares which are just a demon flying at someone from afar.
This disappointing lack of truly creative set pieces does tie into the film’s biggest issue, and that’s a general feeling of everything being slightly undercooked. At times, it can feel like a short film pitch stretched out into a feature, with the incredibly claustrophobic setting restricting it and forcing it to feel repetitive at times. The bold choices it does make are a brilliant indicator of the franchise overall going in a positive direction, but it does end up feeling like a pilot for a potential Evil Dead anthology TV series, rather than a full-blown feature film. There are some truly brilliant sequences featured here, and it’s an easy recommendation for any horror fan out there.
2. The Evil Dead
Director: Sam Raimi
The one that started it all. The Evil Dead (1981) is a film that needs to be seen to be believed, a strange beast of an experience equal parts grotesque and goofy. Despite the fact this is his feature directorial debut, Sam Raimi’s signature style is already completely present here, oozing out of every shot, every camera movement and every little detail. It’s a wild ride of a film that only gets better with time. Sure, the low-budget practical effects may be viewed as outdated by some, but that’s the charm of it. Raimi refuses to let any kind of limitations restrict his vision and it results in some truly iconic, haunting scenes as well as some #bursts of comedy that had me genuinely laughing out loud.
The film refuses to take itself too seriously yet it still completely commits to everything it throws at us, no matter how absurd or ridiculous that might be. Whilst some scenes may have lost their edge and scare factor over time as a result of our expectations for technology rising, the scenes themselves still hold up brilliantly, thanks to just how well-directed and entertaining they are. The film’s short runtime and quick pace, which would quickly become series staples, help massively in this fact. Nothing goes on too long and the film refuses to linger on unnecessary details, instead just presenting you with a rollercoaster ride of some of the most ridiculous horror film scenes you’ll ever see in your life, but also some of the most thrilling and fun.
In contrast to its 2013 re-imagining, the original film refuses to let minor details like plot and characters hold it back. It takes an incredibly simple premise of five friends staying in an isolated cabin in the woods and pushes it to the limits. The five awaken a bloodthirsty demon, and that demon spends the next hour and a half tormenting them, refusing to ever give up and not letting them have a single second to breathe. You may get lost in the chaos and find yourself unable to keep up with the details of what’s going on, but who cares? Just sit back and enjoy the ride, because it truly is one you’ll never forget.
1. Evil Dead II
Director: Sam Raimi
I have never seen a movie that is better-paced than Evil Dead II (1987). No other film manages to make an hour and a half pass by in ten minutes, whilst simultaneously leaving behind hundreds of vivid memories of some of the greatest horror and comedy scenes I’ve ever witnessed in my life. I honestly think I could recount the entire film to you scene-by-scene if prompted because that’s just how memorable it is. It’s a completely unique beast, even when compared to the other entries in the franchise. Every swing it takes, it completely nails. The comedy is consistently hilarious, Raimi’s direction is confident and innovative, and every scene is stuffed to the brim with iconic lines and imagery.
What makes the film almost perfect, though, isn’t what it does, but rather what it doesn’t do. It doesn’t spend the entire first act establishing backstories for every character and explaining the rules of its world. Instead, it takes a bold risk for a sequel and opts to simply refine the first film, rather than expand on it. This does result in somewhat repetitive plotting, as the same protagonist from the first film (Bruce Campbell) takes another girlfriend (Denise Bixler) to another cabin in the woods, where they find the same haunted audio tape from the first film and unleashes the same demons, but all this doesn’t matter. In fact, all of this is shown to us in the first five minutes. After this tiny amount of set-up is taken care of, Raimi pushes the narrative to the side and treats us to an 84-minute rollercoaster, complete with every deranged and chaotic idea he’s ever dreamt up.
Making a “re-quel” of an already successful film only 6 years after its predecessor is always a risky move, but here it completely works, because whilst the premise is the same, the end product is totally different. The first film is a somewhat “conventional” horror film, that may not be too bothered with set-up and story but you can tell that Raimi still feels somewhat obliged to include them. Meanwhile, for the second entry, he completely throws those concepts away, instead choosing to focus on creating the most refined, tightly-paced and entertaining horror film out there. Evil Dead II will always be among my favourite horrors of all time and I think it’s by a mile the peak of the franchise so far.
Evil Dead Rise was released in theaters on April 21, 2023. Read our review of Evil Dead Rise.